Although a good deal of the criticism of the Catholic Church and the clerical sexual abuse crisis undoubtedly is justified, many have criticized what they see as excessive negative coverage in Europe's mainstream media.
But Catholics aren’t the only ones who have been smarting from what they consider to be unreasonable and blanket criticism, particularly in parts of the Italian, British, and German press. The atheist philosopher Marcello Pera also has taken offense, and chose to publicize his frustrations in an open letter to the editor of Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily newspaper.
"There is a war going on," wrote Pera, who co-authored the 2004 book "Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity and Islam" with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. "It's not just against the person of the Pope, because, on these grounds, it would be impossible. Benedict XVI remains impregnable because of his image, his serenity, his clarity, firmness and doctrine. It's enough for him to smile to defeat an army of opponents."
Pera, who is also a senator in the Italian Parliament, noted that "the war is between secularism and Christianity." Secularists know well that, "if a fleck of mud lands on a white robe, the Church would be dirtied, and by soiling the Church, so too would be the Christian religion," he wrote.
That is why, he added, secularists question, without any evidence, whether the church as a whole is capable of looking after children, educating them, or treating them in a Catholic hospital.
He warned that this is a "pitched battle of secularism against Christianity," adding that one would have to recall Nazism and communism to find a similar conflict. The means have changed, he wrote, but the end is the same: the destruction of religion.
He found it "incredible" that secular Germany, of all countries, while continuing to "beat its chest" over memories of wartime Europe, "forgets and does not understand that democracy itself would be lost if Christianity is again wiped out."
"The destruction of religion then entailed the destruction of reason," Pera wrote. "Today, it won't be secular reason that triumphs, but another kind of barbarism."
He then listed what he saw as the various ethical and barbaric violations of today: "It is those who kill a fetus because his life would be detrimental to the 'mental health' of the mother. Those who say that an embryo is a 'clump of cells' good for experiments. It is killing an old man because he doesn't have a family to care for him anymore. It is about those who hasten the end of a child's life because he is no longer conscious and is incurable. It is those who think that Parent A and Parent B are the same as father and mother."
Political, secularist barbarism, he said, will lead to the destruction of Europe because all that will remain will be multiculturalism, relativism, and pacifism — a Europe that says it "mustn't have its own specific identity, but be a container of all identities."
"This war on Christianity would not be so dangerous if Christians understood it," continued Pera. "Instead, many of them participate in incomprehension."
He cited weaknesses in the church, such as theologians "frustrated by the intellectual supremacy" of Benedict XVI; uncertain bishops "who believe any compromise with modernity" is the best way to promote the Christian message; and "cardinals who, in a crisis of faith, begin to suggest that priestly celibacy is not a dogma, and that perhaps it would be better to reconsider."
"The war of the secularists will continue," Pera wrote, "if not because of a Pope like Benedict XVI, who smiles but does not shrink one iota."
He ended by calling on all those who understand why the Pope remains steadfast to "take the situation in hand" and not to wait "to take your next shot." Those who hide and limit themselves to being merely in empathy with him, he said, "don't understand why it's necessary."
Pera is one of a number of prominent European atheist intellectuals who are sympathetic to the church's battles with radical secularism, post-modernism, and cultural relativism. Perhaps the most famous is Jürgen Habermas, the German sociologist and philosopher, whose debates with Cardinal Ratzinger were published under the title "The Dialectics of Secularization" in 2007.
Pera also has been vocal in his criticisms of President Barack Obama. When I asked him about his expectations of the president last year, and Obama's pledge to build consensus, Pera was prophetic.
“That is a dream,” he told me. “In order for that to be materialized, you need to make choices. And as far as I understand it, Obama is not making unifying choices.”
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